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Health Highlights: Feb. 2, 2009

Donor's Kidney Removed Through Vagina Human-Animal Embryos Won't Produce Stem Cells: Study Manganese, Defective Genes Linked to Parkinson's Disease: Study New Technique May Provide Early Osteoarthritis Diagnosis

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Donor's Kidney Removed Through Vagina

A kidney from a female donor was removed through her vagina by surgeons at Johns Hopkins University, the Associated Press reported. It's believed to be a world-first in kidney transplantation.

This technique meant the 48-year-old donor didn't require an abdominal incision, which normally leaves a 5- to 6-inch scar. The kidney was given to the woman's niece and both patients are doing well, hospital officials said.

They said this type of transvaginal kidney removal has been done before to remove cancerous or other nonfunctioning kidneys, but has never been used for healthy kidney donation, the AP reported.

The Jan. 29 operation left the donor with three pea-sized scars on her abdomen. The surgeons said they're hopeful this kind of procedure will persuade more people to become organ donors.


Human-Animal Embryos Won't Produce Stem Cells: Study

Placing human DNA into cow or rabbit eggs in order to make hybrid cloned embryos to produce stem cells for research doesn't work because the animal eggs don't reprogram human DNA in the correct way to generate stem cells, U.S. researchers say.

"Instead of turning on the right genes, it turns out the animal eggs actually turn them off," senior study author Dr. Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., told the Associated Press.

The findings were published online Monday in the journal Cloning and Stem Cells.

Scientists would like to find a way to use animal eggs because it's difficult to get human eggs for research. While some scientists have managed to create human-animal hybrid embryos, there's no widely accepted report of harvesting stem cells from them, the AP said.

The U.S. researchers' conclusions were disputed by a British scientist who has government permission to attempt to create hybrid embryos.

"The idea that this is the nail in the coffin for hybrids is grossly overstated," said Stephen Minger of King's College, London, the AP reported.


Manganese, Defective Genes Linked to Parkinson's Disease: Study

The metal manganese may contribute to Parkinson's disease when defective genes interact to boost its toxicity, a study suggests.

Manganese, which is naturally present in the human body, is stored mainly in the liver and kidneys. It's an essential trace nutrient in nearly all forms of life but is also a known risk factor for Parkinson's.

The researchers conducted experiments on yeast cells and found that manganese toxicity caused by excessive levels of a protein called alpha-synuclein was greatly reduced in the presence of another protein called ATP13A2, Agence France Pressereported.

Yeast cells that lacked ATP13A2 were more sensitive to manganese. It's believed that ATP13A2 plays a role in transporting metal molecules, especially manganese. The researchers duplicated their findings in laboratory-grown rat neurons. The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics.

Susan Lindquist, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues said their findings suggest that people with mutations in the genes that encode these two proteins may be particularly vulnerable to manganese poisoning, AFP reported.


New Technique May Provide Early Osteoarthritis Diagnosis

A minimally invasive microscopic technique could provide an early diagnosis of osteoarthritis so that patients can take steps to protect their cartilage, Swiss researchers say.

Their experimental "atomic force microscope" involves tapping on the surface of a joint with a tiny tip that responds to stiffness. This technique could give up to six months of warning to people prone to the disease, Agence France Presse reported.

The research was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

There are no treatments to slow or stop cartilage loss in people with osteoarthritis, caused by an erosion of the cartilage between joints and a decrease in the fluid that lubricates joints. But the researchers said an early diagnosis of the disease would enable patients to begin cartilage-conserving measures such as exercising or losing weight, AFP reported.

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